Priests unprepared for 1960s 'sex revolution'
NEW YORK: A study commissioned by the United States Roman Catholic bishops has found that the sexual abuse cases plaguing the Church is not due to priests having to be celibate nor that they are operating in an all-male environment.
Instead, the report says, the abuse occurred because priests, who were poorly prepared, monitored and under stress, landed in the midst of the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s.
Known occurrences of sexual abuse of minors by priests rose sharply during those decades, the report found, and the problem grew worse when the Church's hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims.
The 'blame Woodstock' explanation is the same floated by bishops since the Church was engulfed by scandal in the US in 2002 and by Pope Benedict XVI after the issue erupted in Europe last year. But this study is likely to be regarded as the most authoritative analysis of the scandal in the Catholic Church in America.
The study, started in 2006, was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York at a cost of US$1.8 million (S$2.2 million).
Widespread abuse scandals involving Roman Catholic priests first erupted in Boston a decade ago, and the US Church has paid settlements totalling US$3 billion.
The report was to be released yesterday by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, but the Religion News Service published an account of the report on its website on Tuesday.
The bishops have said they hope the report will advance the understanding and prevention of child sexual abuse in society at large.
The researchers concluded, however, that it was not possible for the Church, or for anyone, to identify abusive priests in advance.
Priests who abused minors have no particular 'psychological characteristics', 'developmental histories' or mood disorders that distinguished them from priests who had not abused, the researchers found.
Since the scandal broke, conservatives in the Church have blamed gay priests for perpetrating the abuse, while liberals have argued that the all-male, celibate culture of the priesthood was the cause. This report will satisfy neither flank.
The report also found that homosexual priests had little to do with the problem. If anything, the report noted, the abuse decreased, not increased, as more gay priests began serving the Church.
It noted that homosexual men began entering the seminaries 'in noticeable numbers' from the late 1970s to the 1980s.
By the time this cohort entered the priesthood, in the mid-1980s, the reports of sexual abuse of minors by priests began to drop and then to level off.
Many more boys than girls were victimised, the report says, not because the perpetrators were gay but simply because the priests had more access to boys than to girls, in parishes, schools and extra-curricular activities.
The Vatican has, for years, struggled to control the damage that sexual abuse scandals in the US and several European countries have done to the Church's image.
On Monday, the Vatican told bishops around the world they must make it a global priority to root out sexual abuse of children by priests.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS
[Well, this may explain why there is more of these abuse cases in the US and UK, and less so in Asia countries - unless the lower incidents in Asia is due to under-reporting. But it still sounds like an excuse.]